Sex After Divorce: Advice from a Certified Intimacy Educator and Coach
- Questions to consider before having sex after divorce
- When you find someone you're ready to have sex with
- Sexual safety after divorce
- Sexual communication
- Performance anxiety
- New Relationship Energy
- Sex after divorce ... with your ex?
- Resources on sex after divorce
When it comes to sex after divorce, some people can't wait to get back in the saddle. Others feel like they'll never be ready. The good news is, there's no right or wrong timeline. What's important is that you wait until it feels right for you and that you take some time to get up to speed on modern sex and dating.
After the break-up dust has settled, one of the most pressing questions for newly divorced people is when to start dating or having sex again. Everyone moves at a different pace, and that's okay.
To help decide when it's the right time for you, consider the following:
Questions to consider before having sex after divorce
Have you processed your feelings?
No two divorces are alike, and they each leave different amounts of emotional turmoil in their wake. It can be helpful to receive therapy or coaching to help you process all the feelings that are likely to come up.
Do you still get blindsided by grief or anger?
It's natural to feel grief or anger, even when you know ending a relationship was the right decision. Grief isn't just about the loss of a person; it's about coming to terms with unmet expectations. And while these feelings are normal, it's best to give them some time to lose their intensity before moving on.
Does the idea of sex with someone else make you feel guilty?
If you've been in a long-term monogamous relationship, it can take a while to shake the feeling that even flirting isn't allowed. It's okay to move slowly and get used to chatting with new people before taking the next step.
Are you feeling confident on your own?
Being in a long-term relationship, many people get used to seeing themselves as half of a whole. It's important to get used to being on your own and remember who you are solo before adding other people to the mix. Rather than using sex with someone new as a quick confidence booster, try reconnecting with old friends and practicing skills and hobbies you're proud of.
When you find someone you're ready to have sex with
Trust your gut
If you haven't dated for a while, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by how the sex and dating landscape has changed. Don't let anyone take advantage of your vulnerability or inexperience. Always do a gut check. If something doesn't feel right, then it's not. You never have to do anything you're not excited about.
You're allowed to try new things
While you certainly don't have to try anything new or different, you can if it excites you. No matter what kind of sex you had before or during your marriage, your past experiences don't dictate what you can try in the future. The sexual possibilities are nearly endless, so take time to explore your fantasies and decide what you want for your pleasure outside the influence of a partner. It's not unusual for values and interests to change over time.
Bodies also change over time, and learning what works for you now can be a lot of fun. Try starting from scratch and exploring what feels good. Sexual arousal and desire work like muscles; they need to be exercised. If you're feeling out-of-touch with your turn-ons, start by reconnecting with your own body. Learn what kinds of touch bring you pleasure, and bring this knowledge with you when you have sex with someone new.
Sexual safety after divorce
Even if you've been monogamous for many years, it's a good idea to get tested for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) before having sex with anyone new. This way, you can start your new adventures armed with knowledge about your sexual health, and hopefully with a doctor with whom you feel comfortable discussing sexual health issues.
Another reason to get tested, even if you feel sure the results will be negative, is that it's much easier to ask someone else when they've been tested if you have recent results to share.
What goes into a safer sex conversation?
Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- When were you last tested, and what were the results?
- How many partners have you had since then?
- Have those partners been tested?
- Did you use barriers with those partners?
- Do you have safer sex talks with every new partner?
While the answers to these questions are important, just as important is how someone has this conversation. Do they seem annoyed that you brought it up? Do they act offended? Does it seem like they've never thought about safety before? Any of these reactions are a bad sign.
Sexual safety isn't just about protection from infection; it's also about feeling safe. If you're anxious about STIs, it's difficult to relax and enjoy yourself. A good sexual partner will care about how you feel. If they can't be bothered to have this conversation, they might not care about your other needs.
If you or a potential new partner are positive for an STI, that's not a deal-breaker! Many people live with STIs and have full and satisfying sex lives. But it's important to share this information so precautions can be taken and so everyone can give fully informed consent.
Get used to condoms and other barriers
It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the safer sex methods you want to use before you're with another person. While condoms can't prevent all STI infections – some, like HSV, transmit skin-to-skin – they're still an essential safety precaution for more serious infections.
If you have a penis and haven't used condoms for a while, add them to your masturbation routine. This is a great way to get used to the sensation of sex with a condom and can help reduce performance anxiety when the time comes to use one with a partner. It's also a chance to test-drive different brands, sizes, and styles.
Not all condoms are created equal! Condom sizing isn't standardized, so one brand's regular might be bigger than another brand's large. And "large" can mean longer, wider, or more room in the head. These are important differences that can have a big impact on both comfort and safety.
Regardless of gender, everyone should bring safer sex supplies to a date. Never rely on the other person to be prepared. And even if your sexual partner has supplies, it's nice to have your favorite brands available. Condoms aren't just for penises. They're useful for covering sex toys as well. Even if the toy is only ever used with one person, they can make clean-up easier. (And putting them on a toy is a great way to practice putting them on a body.)
Other barriers you might want to check out are internal condoms (for vaginal or anal sex) and dental dams (for oral-and-vulva or oral-and-anal contact). Experiment with lube, too. There are countless varieties, and it's important to get something with body-safe ingredients. Find a reputable sex toy store to check out the options. The individual sample packs easily fit in a pocket or purse and make a big difference when it comes to pleasurable sex. They also make barriers more pleasurable to use.
No one is a mind-reader. But if you've been having sex with the same person for a long time, you can get used to your partner knowing your body and your preferences. While sexual communication is always important for maximizing pleasure, it's absolutely essential with someone new. Get ready to have clear and explicit conversations with your new partner about what kind of sex you want to have. That means negotiating in advance as well as making requests and giving feedback during sex. If talking during sex feels overwhelming, start by focusing on a choice between two things: "Harder or softer." "Faster or slower." "Left or right."
It's common to end up with sexual baggage from previous relationships. Partnered sex relies on the chemistry and connection between the people involved. When a relationship is strained, the sex often suffers. But that doesn't mean either of the people is "bad" at sex. So don't worry that the issues you were experiencing in your marriage will necessarily follow you to your new sexual partners.
Even so, first-time sex with someone new can be stressful. And stress is the enemy of pleasure. Feeling anxious can make it difficult to get aroused or to experience orgasm. It can also make it more difficult for your body to do the things you're hoping for.
Be patient with yourself and your partner, and be prepared to take things slow. You can always start with long, slow make-out sessions or exchanging massages to get comfortable being intimate with someone new. It's also helpful to be ready to pivot to a Plan B. For example, if you or your partner doesn't get an erection, focus on other kinds of play. Use hands, toys, or mouths to explore. Taking the pressure off of genital response can help reduce stress and give you the opportunity to discover new forms of pleasure.
New Relationship Energy
In polyamory, there's a term for the feeling you get from being with someone new: New Relationship Energy (NRE). The reason it's talked about enough to have its own acronym is that NRE can take over your life. Good sex can be intoxicating. And just like you shouldn't drink and drive, you shouldn't make big life decisions while under the influence of NRE. Simply enjoy the feeling! It's incredible to feel desired and experience pleasure, especially if it's been a long time.
But these feelings don't mean you need to commit to anything serious right away (or ever). Give yourself time to get used to everything that's available to you now rather than going all-in on the first connection that makes you feel alive again.
Sex after divorce ... with your ex?
Sex with an ex is more common than you might think. There's something comforting about the familiarity. And if the sex wasn't the problem, why not? While it's possible for exes to become friends with benefits, it's a good idea to wait until you're really and truly over the break-up before you give this a try. It's too easy to fall into old habits or to make a choice because it feels like the only option.
Whether you're considering sex with the ex you just divorced or an ex from the past, make sure you're making that choice clear-headed. This can be a great time to check in with friends and gauge their responses when you float the idea.
Resources on sex after divorce
You're not in this alone! If you want help figuring out sex, dating, and relationships, there are a lot of resources available.
There are many educational opportunities available online for people who want to expand their knowledge about sex and relationships. Many sex toy stores offer both live and pre-recorded class options.
For some recorded classes to get started with, you can check out offerings from:
Whether you prefer paper, digital, or audio, there are countless books available to help you navigate sex and relationships. Check out my book, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships, or find a list of my favorite sex and relationship books over on Bookshop.org.
Therapy and coaching
Nothing can take the place of professional help when managing life transitions. If you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed by changes in your life, consider reaching out to a therapist for support. If you're looking for help getting back into dating and sex, a coach can be a fantastic resource.
Stella Harris believes communication is key to satisfaction in relationships. Professionally trained as an intimacy educator, coach, and mediator, Stella brings empathy, expertise, and a fresh perspective to help clients find their sticking points and break through the roadblocks to their goals. Stella’s wide-ranging expertise has led to being featured on the evening news discussing the importance of sex education in schools, appearing as an expert witness in court, and even speaking as an authority on banana slug mating habits. Stella is the author of two books, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships, and The Ultimate Guide to Threesomes. Learn more at www.stellaharris.net or follow her on Instagram @stellaharriserotica.
More articles by Stella Harris